Children with faces painted with butterflies, tigers and spiders chase each other through the crowds, weaving and shouting to one another. Mothers hold up their littles ones so they can get a sneak peak at the new born piglets, while others get the chance to dip their hands into the lily pond.
It’s the height of the summer holidays, and Staunton Country Park, Havant, is bursting with children and families basking in the warm weather. With an animal farm, formal gardens, a maze and lots of open space, it’s a favourite among those who live in the Portsmouth area.
But many don’t realise how historically significant it is.
Kerry Bailey, 37, lives in Meonstoke and is the park manager of Staunton Country Park and Queen Elizabeth Country Park.
‘Staunton is a regency estate,’ she explains, ‘and we want to highlight that heritage in what’s available here. Our full name is Sir George Staunton Country Park, but it’s a bit of a mouthful. We want to show off that part of history.
‘Sir George owned the estate, although it used to be twice as big, and he was a botanist, so that’s why we have the planet collection. He grew pineapples and melons, which was very rare in the 18th century.’
With 145,000 visitors heading to Staunton each year, some 180,000 also spread out in the country park’s 1000 acres of land, free for families to wander through. There’s the chance to go angling, play on climbing frames and have a barbeque.
Kerry says: ‘Sir George was very into landscaping, and he made the lake that’s here and the islands. He was very influenced by his travels and his passion was China. His Gothic library, which we’ve recently started using, was built to house his literature from there.
‘He was an MP for Portsmouth and we are trying to capture that side of him. We are trying to provide a nice day out for the community, and engage children and young families too.
‘We are conserving the heritage and countryside of the area.’
A popular area of the country park is the farm, which houses a range of resident animals such as pigs, sheep, rabbits, llamas and alpacas. For the first time this summer, they are also offering donkey rides.
Other animals include fallow deer, Bagot goats, cattle, guinea pigs and peacocks.
Kerry explains: ‘The farm is about getting up close and personal to the animals, and it’s about educating people. We want to show them where the animals’ food comes from and also where humans’ food comes from.
‘Children can see for themselves how the animals live in their home and how important it is to protect them.’
She adds: ‘We’ve always got small animals who are having babies throughout the year, and at this time there’s a lot of newborns.’
In the middle of the summer months not only are the gardens in full bloom, but the workshops and activities for children are in full swing to keep them entertained. There’s activity trails, animal encounters and crafts for a range of ages.
Kerry says: ‘Everyday we have something going on. Recently the activities are encouringing childen to use recycle materials to make bird feeds.’
The park also caters to those looking to volunteer, whether it be cleaning out the animals or helping with the litter picking.
‘Our staff is brilliant, but the contribution of volunteers is so important. We also have places for those with learning difficulties and disabilities. Making the park look nice is a big part of what we do.’
Kerry adds: ‘We are always trying to improve and develop. It’s what we are here for and we want people to learn something new from the experience, that’s why we do a lot of community work with schools too.
‘It’s important to provide a service to local people, as well as looking after this place for future generations.’
Plans for the future include building a new barn so there can be a bigger outdoor space for the animals, and opening up the butterfly house as it proved such a success when previously letting in the public.
‘We’re also looking at developing the garden area.’ says Kerry.
‘Everyone knows it’s there, but we want to open up parts of the glasshouse. We really want the park to link in with the heritage, so people know how special the place is.
‘We are constantly looking to the future and thinking of ways we can improve what is already here.’
Having recently received a green flag from Keep Britain Tidy (which means Staunton is reaching a certain standard of greenness), now every park managed by Hampshire County Council has one. It’s invaluable for Kerry.
She says: ‘As a local resource it’s a beautiful place on the doorstep to people local to Portsmouth. People can read a book up here or come along with their family, or do whatever they do to relax.
‘It’s a large area of countryside that is so close to an urban area, which is very unique for people here.’
For more information go to hants.gov.uk/staunton.